The price of dowry and passage, with pieces by Gavin Kayner and Renny Golden.
Welcome to Burning Bright, a weekly podcast presenting poetry and prose from Passager.
Gavin Kayner said his story “Right With God” was inspired by those pilgrims who travel to the pueblo of Magalena “to test their relationships with God by lifting the head of St. Francis.” Here’s an excerpt.
In Magdalena, Mexico one celebration seemed much like another until the day Esmeralda Cruz married. The marriage took place in the spring of 1890. Her parents, Jorge and Carlotta Cruz, announced the wedding proudly, though setting aside a suitable dowry proved a great sacrifice. The small bag of coins hidden in the wall behind their bed was a lot of money for a family who had so little. To protect others from temptation, they had told no one of their diligence. Every night Jorge counted the silver coins with Carlotta at his shoulder. A father with a daughter is rich, he told her one evening as he spilled the coins across the frayed blanket, until she marries.
. . . At noon the wedding party gathered in the church. As he wandered about the church, [Jorge] came to the small room where a simple wooden carving of St. Francis lay on a waist-high bed of adobe covered in plaster. The memory of who carved it or how the church acquired the icon was lost, but the mystery of faith had given it special significance. Only those right with God could cup their hand under the head and lift the statue even a little. For years pilgrims throughout the country had made their way to the homely room, and confronted themselves and God with unerring conviction. Jorge saw how smooth the head had been worn. “So much faith,” he whispered and crossed himself. He had considered it, certainly, but knew himself as a weak and sinful man and never dared challenge God so boldly. Still, an idle thought crossed his mind. Could he? On this special day? Was not God infinitely merciful? Jorge felt his hands sparkle in anticipation. He had no witnesses. Who would know? God, he heard himself answer. God would know.
. . . The wedding party formed, and Esmeralda made her entrance. As she stood luminous at the door, a melancholy constricted Jorge’s chest. Nothing prepared a father for this. His daughter when she entered, another man’s wife when she left. What a price to pay for loving her all those years. Pride and regret engulfed Jorge as he escorted Esmeralda between the benches to the altar.
The priest chanted the wedding Mass; the people their responses. The old words settled like dust in the celebrants’ mouths.
. . . As Rafael and Esmeralda left the church, four men from a large village to the south played the traditional songs. By midnight the children had fallen asleep wherever exhaustion subdued them. The men, dulled with alcohol and lies, sought out the comfort of their wives. The time had come for the groom to take his bride away.
Jorge entered his house to collect Esmeralda’s dowry. He knelt beside the bed and pulled it away from the wall. In the lamp light it was difficult to see, but when he reached into the hole with his callused hand, Jorge knew immediately the cloth bag was missing. Frantically, he searched among the bedclothes. Finding nothing, he hurried from the room.
An excerpt from Gavin Kayner’s story “Right With God” from Passager Issue 68.
Renny Golden said she’s met with mothers and their children being held for months in for-profit family detention centers in New Mexico and Texas. Here’s her poem “Lorena.”
Her hands, if they speak will say:
She must hide her hands,
How they were pinned. Useless.
The gringa lawyer wants to know.
But Lorena has only emptiness.
Journey flashes back, she cannot
speak, cannot look at her son’s eyes.
How could she not have stopped it.
Her shame a bright moon
that floods her. Her boy screaming.
Beggars. Nothing, nothing
to give. Her body, the price.
In that filthy car, pleading:
take my boy away from here. Please.
It is in her child’s mind like a fire
that cindered him even as he
bellowed into starless silence,
until he understood his mother was broken.
Desert sky had no eyes, only a boy,
a witness without a childhood.
Yes, your honor, I left Honduras
four months ago.
Alone your honor, with my boy.
Gangs. He no have chance.
How did you travel?
Cousin knew driver who take us through Guatemala, another take us through Mexico.
Did anyone harm you?
She pins hands to her sides that might testify her shame. Liar hands.
Did they harm you?
“Lorena,” Renny Golden, from Passager Issue 59.
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For Kendra, Mary, Christine, Rosanne, and the rest of the Passager staff, I’m Jon Shorr.